Back in the 1990ies there was a TV-show on CBS, called “Northern Exposure.” Although filmed almost entirely in Washington state, in a small town called Roslyn (if you’ve seen the show, you might remember a mural saying, “Roslyn’s Café,” which in reality marks the location of the “Roslyn Café”—the mural itself is still there), the show takes place in a fictional Alaskan town called Cicely, located somewhere in the wilderness of Alaska, at least a two-hour flight from the state’s largest city, Anchorage.
Even though Cicely doesn’t really exist and the show’s producers never really explained their source of inspiration, according to some websites, it could be a mixture of many real Alaskan towns and cities. For example, Talkeetna, an old mining town 100 miles north of Anchorage, a real all-American small town with charming little houses, cafes and restaurants lined up on Main Street, and the place where many flightseeing tours to the Denali National Park and Preserve take off.
Or Seward, 127 miles south from Anchorage, that can be truly called “the Alaskan Riviera,” a characterization used for Cicely on the show’s pilot episode, located right next to the Kenai Fjords National Park and offering beautiful views to the nearby snow-topped mountains, itself having a charming old fishing village feel and look, especially in the historic downtown area.
Alaska is huge
Or it could be some other smaller or a bigger cities (let’s face it, Alaska doesn’t really have big cities; Anchorage has the population of 300,000 and the entire population of Alaska is about 738,000 with the density of 1.26 people per square mile), but that is really not that important. What’s important is, to experience the real Alaska, places like Talkeetna and Seward, and national parks like Denali and Kenai Fjords, are exactly the places you need to visit.
The thing with Alaska is, it looks quite reasonably small on the map, but if you’d hypothetically put the state onto the map of the lower 48, it would cover most of Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa and Kansas, and considerable parts of Nebraska and the Dakotas. The fact is, it’s huge. So don’t let the tiny population thrown you off—if you want to experience everything in the Great Land, you will need weeks and weeks of time.
That all is to say, the week we spent in the second-remotest state of the U.S. wasn’t clearly enough. And that’s why we did the most essential things we could—Anchorage, where you’d normally land; Talkeetna, where you take a flightseeing tour to Denali; the Denali National Park and Preserve itself; Seward in the south; and Homer on the other side of the Kenai Peninsula.
Alaska is expensive
Also, it’s important to note there are no freeways in Alaska. Most of the time you have two-lane roads (and by two-lane I mean one lane goes your way, and the other one the opposite way) and in places quite heavy traffic (I mean, there aren’t that many people in Alaska, where do they all come from?), and even though the distances between the cities aren’t that remarkable, the above-mentioned factors tend to make your drive times frustratingly long. Imagine, the 127-mile journey from Anchorage to Seward takes close to three hours; longer if you stop on the way. The Denali village is 240 miles from the state’s largest city—be prepared for a four to five-hour journey; more if you have traffic (fortunately, in the north the traffic is quite scarce). Homer, 221 miles south, is also four to five hours away from Anchorage. And if you’re crazy enough to drive from Denali to Seward in one go (365 miles), it’s going to take you the best part of the day.
Another noteworthy thing to mention about Alaska is, it’s relatively expensive. Be prepared to pay $150+ for a night of lodging (albeit, if you plan and book ahead, it may be cheaper), $15 for breakfast and $45 for steak dinner. Gas is cheaper in Anchorage (at the time we went, about $2.40 per gallon), but more expensive in the remote areas ($2.80 per gallon or so in Homer).
Alaska is totally worth it
But here’s the thing. If you want to experience exceptional beauty, great northern charm, friendly bearded people (I swear, all Alaskan males have beards!), cool weather (that, of course, is relative; in May, the temperatures in Anchorage ranged from 50…75°F; in Talkeetna and Denali they can get as low as 34°F in the morning, but as high as 75°F during the day), snowy mountains and reindeer burgers (or meat loaf, or pretty much any other meat dish), then you will go to Alaska and enjoy every bit of it.
So what if you have to drive five hours to get somewhere. So what if you have to wear a warmer jacket in what most Alaskans would call “summer.” Because when you get there, you will enjoy gorgeous views over a beautiful lake with mountain reflections; or see the highest peak in North America from an airplane; see moose, bears and whales up close in the wilderness; enjoy good food and, quite surprisingly for me, really good beer (Alaskan white and blonde ales are really, really good, even APAs brewed there are real tasty and I am saying this as someone who has never liked ales!); and see the sun at 12 o’clock in the night (and the further north you go, the more chance you have to see the sun throughout the night—that is in the summer, of course).
Yes, Alaska is totally worth it.